Mark Blasini


12 tools of preparation


In yesterday's post, I talked about the importance of preparing yourself for the future when you don't know what will happen in your career.

Preparation, however, is not something you can simply do with willpower or knowledge. You need tools - systems, practices, resources - to help you build skills and consolidate your strengths.

The following are 12 simple tools - most of them I stole from others - I use to help me increase my creativity, productivity, knowledge, and skills.


This one comes from Nassim Taleb. An anti-library is a collection of books that you would like to read, but haven't gotten to yet. The idea is to use these books for research or inspiration.


Success, they say, is about who you know - your personal or professional network. The anti-rolodex is the opposite of this: it's composed of the people you don't know, but wish you did. People who are still alive that inspire you. People you wish you could have coffee with and pick their brain about. People you wish you had the courage to email to ask for some guidance or just to tell them how much you appreciate their work.

With the anti-rolodex, you want to put the name of the person, how you know them, and a piece of contact info (an email, a website, etc.). If you do decide to work up the courage to contact them, just make sure to take their name off this list and put them on your real rolodex.


This tool serves as a storehouse for all your personal knowledge and preferences. A binder-book is basically a binder that's filled with papers that contain useful, interesting, or relevant information.

For example, you might have a binder-book for Southern recipes. Or you might have a binder-book for natural remedies for common ailments. Or you might have a binder-book filled with lyrics and chord progressions for your favorite songs. Or you might have a binder-book for different physical exercises that work on different parts of the body (abs, legs, arms, etc.).

The idea is to use the binder-book as an index - a quick resource that you can turn to for answers to questions or problems you commonly have.


This idea I stole from Austin Kleon. A cabinet of curiosities is a collection of the weird, quirky, or interesting things you like. These could be physical collections (e.g. dolls, coins, pictures, etc.), or they could be music (CDs, vinyls), or they could be the websites you are subscribed to. Anything that you find curious or interesting.

Group all these things into a box or spreadsheet or room. It's good to have an idea of these things because these things tell something curious about you.


This idea I took from Ryan Holiday, who in turn stole it from Montaigne. A commonplace book is simply a collection of notes for storing interesting facts, anecdotes, quotes, ideas, or other short information. These notes can be stored in a shoebox (Ryan's cache of choice), a scrapbook, an Excel sheet, a folder on your desktop, wherever.

The idea is to group your notes by theme so that when you're doing creative work - researching for a book, making a film, writing a song, designing a shirt, etc. - you can have a bunch of inspiration or knowledge to draw from. This makes your knowledge useful.


The essential library is the opposite of the anti-library - the anti-anti-library, if you will. If the anti-library is about accumulating books that you'd like to read so you always have some new source material to draw from, the essential library is about reducing your books to only those "essential" ones - the ones which have changed your life, your thinking, the way you view the world.

The essential library is filled with those books that you return to over and over again for wisdom and inspiration. Because of this, the idea is to keep this library as small as possible. You only want the cream of the crop in this library.


Often in our journey towards finding the right project or career for us, we stumble upon pathways or strategies that just don't work for us - whether because they don't excite us, or they are too above our level, or we just plain hate them.

After encountering so many of these, I decided to make a list of them - the things I don't like to do, or strategies that I've tried that don't work for me. This list can serve as a reminder of what doesn't work for you so that you don't fall into the trap of following them again.


It's so hard to know what we are good at or what we can offer people. We know what our hobbies and interests are, but beyond that, we're often clueless about ourselves. That's why I recommend creating a personal profile of yourself.

A personal profile is a useful tool you can use to understand what you're strengths, skills, and influences are. It can include whatever you feel highlights who you are: personality (I like to use the Myers-Briggs Indicator, but you can use your own), personal strengths (e.g. patient, smart, compassionate, etc.), personal competencies and skills, interests, knowledge, influences, and so on.


If you are a creative, like me, then a portfolio is essential. So many times, as you work on different projects or works of art (songs, poems, essays, videos), you lose track of what you've done. Being so focused on your current work, you forget that you have a past history of finished works - works worth sharing.

My recommendation, then, is to collect your works of art and keep them in a single place - a folder, a binder, a website, in a room. This way when an opportunity pops up, you know where to go to show people your work.


This is an idea I adapted from Derek Sivers. If you're a creative, then you're a daydreamer. You have dreams of projects you could do, ideas you could bring to life, other lives you could lead. Why keep them all in your head? A possible projects folder is a collection of all those ideas you have for doing things.

Most of the ideas you put in your possible projects folder you probably won't do. But some of them...Who knows?


Another idea I stole from Austin Kleon. A praise file is a collection of positive comments, emails, reviews people have given about you or your work. Everyone gets down and out, everyone likes to know that their work affects people, everyone needs a boost of confidence. That's what a praise file is for.

Of course, you shouldn't bask in your own glory with these praises. But if you're feeling down and need a pick-me-up, a praise file is a good way to go.


Final steal from Austin Kleon. A swipe file is basically a collection of those things you want to steal ("swipe") for your own work. It could be certain lyrics, lines from your favorite book or poem, a drawing, a photo, a film sequence, whatever.